News flash! :-) Teachers tend to be an opinionated bunch! This writer is not an exception. Here are some of his! These comments come from an engineer-turned-schoolteacher. Some will likely seem strange to many of you. Sit with them. Let them stew for a while.
As an engineer for much of his working life, this writer is keenly aware that the first step in designing any system is a clear and complete (as far as possible) requirements document. Without it, you will have people working in discordant ways to achieve results that are different in the minds of each worker.
Most people are quite rational, when you understand the perspective and database from which they are working. In their universe and using the requirements as they understand them, they are quite rational. (Read more about this.)
We hear different people saying "That's wrong,
this is right!" "No, no, you have to do it my way!" "That is a
stupid idea!" Does this sound familiar to anyone?
It seems to the writer that the important thing is
decide what skills and what knowledge does a person ACTUALLY need to
be an effective member of our society. (That is a difficult
question!) Once those requirements are clearly defined and
described, then we concern ourselves with meeting them. If most of
us were working to the same set of requirements, there would be a
more coherent and effective approach to improving education. Of
course we will still have disagreements, but that is always part of
the process of a Group System Design activity. Of course we will
still have to invent new ways, and there will be a degree of trial
Requirements can be met using a "push" technology, such as a textbook that will (hopefully) lead directly to students learning the required skills and knowledge. It says, "These are the requirements, and this is exactly what must be done to meet them." The "push" approach assumes that the book writer has all (or at least most) of the answers to "How?". He assumes that you will follow his routines and methods. This method generally has these characteristics:
Requirements can be met using a "pull" technology, such as a standards based (read, "requirements based") test. A "pull" approach basically says, "I don't care how you reach these goals, just reach them. You can use whatever curriculum or methods you want. You can use a brute-force method, or one filled with finesse and creativity." It has these characteristics:
There is no way to generally define which is best: push or pull. The answer is constantly changing! Here is the situation now, as this writer sees it.
In general our education system is very badly broken. Based on the observation that the efforts to fix it are (society wide) like a chase scene from a Keystone Cops movie, we as a society don't yet know how! As a society, we are not now smart enough to fix all our schools.
The pull technology is likely to produce the best medium term results. Couple it with regulations and organizational schemes now emerging. Then the pull technology will spin off lots of ideas. Some will fail miserably. Some will succeed. Some will be wonderfully successful! Because of competition, failures will be weeded out. Wonderfully successful will multiply. This is the idea behind "Market Pressure" as it relates to education. In the last century we learned that centrally planned economic and social systems do not work as well as a free and competitive system. Those systems are not as complex as how we learn and develop as human beings. Why should we believe that a one-size-fits-all, top-down-human-designed push technology would work to save our education system?
As we get smarter in this process, then we can gradually shift our efforts over to more push technology. This will make the new knowledge more accessible to beginning or otherwise inexperienced teachers. Sorry folks, there are not too many people able to be super teachers! What we have to do is create a system where ordinary people can do extraordinary things! ... I stole that from somewhere! :-)
It is this writer's opinion that eventually we should be in a state of mild oscillation between emphasis on push and then on pull technologies.
Dependency Upon Requirements
Neither the push or pull technologies will work well if the requirements are not clearly, correctly, and accurately defined. It matters that the requirements (skills and knowledge taught) are meaningful and useful. Are we meeting the requirements of our society and the individuals in it? Can we look at our curriculum and say, "That skill meets this requirement of society or individuals," and check it off? (No shooting from the hip on this question!)
If the standards (read "requirements") have been determined by what has been taught before, then I suspect they are not valid. If they are based upon inclusion in textbooks that grandfathered it in from earlier books and those grandfathered in from even earlier books, what assurance can we have that they are still meaningful requirements today, and should become part of the current "standards"? What assurance is there that an element in the "Standard" was EVER determined to meet a REAL need? I feel we need a very serious look at revising our requirements.
Here are some tough questions.
During the development of this education web site, the author spent significant time and effort in asking about our fundamental requirements in education, and in trying to answer those questions. Those excursions into Philosophy of Education acted as his guide in further writings. (For an example of rewritten requirements, see "Suggested Changes to Science Education in Grades 6-8.")
Please Note; this site is by no means a complete body of work. It points a direction. It is being edited and is still under construction.
Writing a Requirements Document
We need to write a requirements document, and it should be done like Zero-based budgeting. Take EVERYTHING that we are teaching and throw it into the "Recycle bin" of our computer. Then, in order to take something out of the Recycle bin, and put it into our Requirements Document, we have to mount a compelling reason to do so! That compelling reason must be based on a compelling need of either society or individuals! These will likely have to be prioritized. After all, humans are pretty good at amplifying their wants and converting them into needs. Prioritizing allows us to be ruthless in deciding how our limited time and resources shall be spent! If we don't prioritize, we will find ourselves back where we have been for a long time now, trying to force 10 pounds of potatoes into a 5-pound bag. (Oops!)
Created 31 Aug '03